A broken promise.


Preface to the Rules of Hockey 1997

The Board continues to explore ways of improving the flow of the game whilst retaining the fundamental pattern of play. Having considered the results of world-wide trials of the offside Rule, the Board has to decided to introduce a mandatory experimental Rule under which “offside” is withdrawn.

It is expected that the balance of influence will swing from defenders to attackers and will result in more goals, less congestion around and in the circle, and more flowing hockey with fewer stoppages.

To prevent opponents from behaving in a potentially dangerous manner, their conduct near the goal will be subject to constraints.

This was of course ‘whitewash’ or ‘hogwash’ if you prefer  It is expected that the balance of influence will swing from defenders to attackers and will result in more goals, less congestion around and in the circle, and more flowing hockey with fewer stoppages. ” but was the kind of promotion that was to be expected from the proponents of what might prove to be a deeply unpopular change, when the FIH Hockey Rules Board really didn’t have a clue about how this change would impact the playing of the game. That it was thought that there would be less congestion in and around the circle or fewer stoppages is astonishing. But I am not concerned about those statements, they were guesses and no sensible person put much store in them because that was recognized. On the whole and providing the promises made were kept, the abolition of off-side was a good thing despite being of significant disadvantage to a defending team.

But the promises were not kept. This: To prevent opponents from behaving in a potentially dangerous manner, their conduct near the goal will be subject to constraints.” should have been meant and taken seriously. It has annoyed me greatly that this undertaking has not been honoured and it makes me more angry year on year, as not only was there no sign of these constraints being drafted, trialled and enacted immediately following the eventual deletion of the Off-side Rule, the constrains on dangerous and reckless play that were already in place began to disappear rapidly – and now they have all vanished.

The only constraint introduced, said to be for reasons of safety, has been the laughable prohibition on playing a free-ball, awarded in the opponent’s 23m area, directly into the opponent’s circle. Why is that laughable? Well “more flowing hockey” takes a bash, but it was a ridiculous introduction because, despite the Rules that exist (so because of the way they are interpreted), players are now ‘accidentally’ raising the ball (intent cannot here be seen ??) at above shoulder height into the circle in open play (following forget lifted – think danger) for other players to hit, often from above head height and at point blank range, at the goal (so much for constraints and for thinking about danger)

The restriction on the free-ball awarded in the 23m area is therefore a near irrelevant from a safety point of view. This restriction is now just something that occasionally clogs up a match. The only good thing to have come from it is the introduction of the 23m restart that has replaced the corner as a result of the clog the award of a corner created because of the prohibition on the direct pass. The sooner we see the back of this silly prevention of a direct pass from a free-ball into the circle (and the bag of 5m restrictions that accompany it), the better. Only the ‘Own Goal’, a dangerous innovation which for a year or so was extant at the same time as the free-ball restriction -an absurd combination – was more ridiculous. 

I have some constraints in mind (I have written about all of them previously in my Rule rewrite articles) I list them below in no particular order. Most of them are ball-height restrictions “3D” hockey requiring “3D” restraints.

1) Introduce a goal-zone to prevent ‘crowding’ of the goalkeeper and point-blank volley hitting and deflections from passes – high and low – made into the goal-mouth

2) Prohibit the raising of the ball into the circle with a hit (away from the immediate control of the hitter/dribbler) – intention irrelevant.

3) Prohibit raising the ball into the circle to above elbow height with any other stroke or with intentional deflections or with a ‘dink’ hit made while dribbling with the ball.

4) Prohibit playing of or at the ball at above shoulder height when in the opponent’s circle.

5) Withdraw the Rule prohibiting an intentional raised hit (that is not a shot at the goal from within the opponent’s circle) and replace it with an absolute height limit (shoulder height) on any hit that is raised in any part of the pitch outside the opponent’s circle – intention irrelevant, dangerous play not a consideration.

Raised hits made inside the opponent’s circle that are not intended as a shot at the goal (i.e. raised hit passes or ‘crosses’), to remain prohibited – intent to raise the ball irrelevant.

Intentionally raised hits that are intended as shots at the goal are not height restricted but are subject to dangerous play Rules (See 6). 

6) Introduce a dangerous play height limit (sternum or elbow height) on any raised ball – (including  a shot at the goal, made from within the opponent’s circle),  propelled at another player from within 15m, (slightly more than the distance from which a scoring shot may be made at the goal), at a velocity that could hurt a player hit with it – intention irrelevant. 

(High velocity can be determined objectively by loss of velocity and the falling of a raised ball. Simply: – Is the ball rising or falling on reaching the elbow height of another player it has been propelled towards?)

A ball raised at knee height or above and at any velocity at an opponent within 5m (but better 2m or 3m) with any stroke or a deflection to be considered dangerous play.

7) The scoop and lob are not height restricted but cannot be played directly into the opponent’s circle at above elbow height. 

8) Prohibit the continual bouncing of the ball on the stick to above knee height after moving into the playing reach of an opponent – otherwise the ball may be repeatedly bounced to shoulder height in this way – but not to above shoulder height.

9) Raising the ball off the ground and then hitting it away on the volley as it falls or on the half-volley as it rebounds from the surface of the pitch is a prohibited action in the opponent’s circle, and anywhere on the field of play if done towards an opponent (See 6).

10) Amend the Rule on playing the ball above shoulder height so that a player playing such a ball is obliged to bring it immediately and safely to ground and may not hit or deflect it away as a pass to another player. The ball may be deflected away only into clear space in the run path of the player making the deflection, where it is intended to be and possible it be collected by that same player.

11) Aerial passes (scoops or lobs) made into an area where they may be contested for by two or more players from opposing teams already in that position are to be deemed play leading to or likely to lead to dangerous play and penalised as such at the place the ball was raised – that is where the danger or potential danger is initially caused. (Encroaching offences, on the other hand, to be penalised where the encroaching offence occurred – usually at the point the ball is falling)

12) There are a number of circle incidents that are presently penalised with a penalty corner when they could, more fairly and appropriately, be dealt with by the award of a free ball on the defender’s 23m line. Some of them were previously dealt with by the award of a bully. High deflections off goalkeeping equipment, trapped ball, etc.


An alternative to some of the above recommendations might be the introduction of a lighter and softer ball, with possibly the option or requirement to use lacrosse style helmets and face shields, but I think that lacrosse, hurling, ice-hockey and hockey ought to remain separate and distinctive sports for the foreseeable future (some aspects of ice-hockey could possibly be adopted by indoor hockey – no baseline and no penalty corners for example ).

I believe that a proposal to significantly change the weight and hardness of the ball  would have no support at all because that would cause  a number fundamental and unwelcome changes to the playing of the game. However hockey, especially with the recent amendment to Rule 7 (permitting above shoulder play), despite its hard and heavy ball, is already becoming too similar to hurling for the reasonable safety of participants and actions need to be taken to address that issue.

“Back in the day” and “When I were a lad” hockey was played with apparent enjoyment even though it was forbidden to raise any part of the stick above shoulder height when playing, attempting to play or even when approaching the ball – and I could still hit the ball with considerable power. The Sticks Rule was perhaps too restrictive (applied even when there was no opponent within 5 yards) but in those days the statement that there was an emphasis on player safety meant that there was an emphasis on player safety written into the Rules – and applied – it was not just wishful thinking.

And, when I began playing hockey, there needed to be three opponents their goal-side of the ball for the receiver of the ball on the attacking team to be considered on-side. A player could in fact be penalised for off-side before a pass was made if he or she was in an off-side position and considered to be influencing the play of the defending team. (application was later amended to the soccer version at the time the pass was made but I am not sure that the Rule was ever so amended). This was okay because the side in possession of the ball had such a huge advantage and even on-side tackling was difficult with the pre -1980’s long head sticks.

The team in possession of the ball still has a huge advantage even if tackling is easier because of developments in stick design, it’s very difficult to tackle legally from behind a player in possession of the ball.












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